As someone who is looking to utilize a treadmill for health, fitness, or running performance, you should know how best to use your treadmill for your specific goals. Many people will turn to treadmill running when the weather outside is no longer conducive to running, leaving treadmill users with one glaring question:
What Treadmill Incline Is Equivalent to Running Outside?
While the question is simple and straight forward, the answer is not so much. In reality, the best way to mimic outside running is by incorporating a variety of speeds and inclines in your training, and this can be applied within a single workout or it can be distributed over a week of training.
For example, one day you might prefer to simulate road running, where most of the surfaces you run on a are consistent and flat. As such, you would likely benefit from choosing a manual treadmill program, setting your speed, and going from there based on how you feel.
Alternatively, another day of your training you can choose to utilize a rolling hills style program, such as that on the Horizon T5 Treadmill, which will increase and decrease your incline throughout the workout. This provides a realistic simulation of what it is like when you are running outside.
Best Treadmill Incline to Simulate Outdoor Running
If you are looking for a single incline level to use to simulate outdoor running, I would consider a few factors:
- How long have you been training for?
- What outdoor terrain are you comfortable with running on?
- Do you prefer longer, slower runs or shorter, more intense runs?
1. How long have you been training for?
If you have not been training for a while, I would start lower and increase your incline from there. For example, your week of training could look something like this:
- Day 1 – 2% incline, running at 6mph for 20 minutes.
- Day 2 – Off
- Day 3 – 4% incline, running at 8mph for 12 minutes.
- Day 4 – Off
- Day 5 – 0% incline, running at 4-5mph for 45 minutes.
Once you get used to running and have been consistent with your training program, you can then increase the intensity of the run (your speed, your incline, or both) on your faster days, and increase the duration (time or distance) on your slower days. Ultimately, you want to progress at a pace which makes every workout challenging but not impossible to complete. To safely train on a treadmill or when running outside, you should never push yourself to the point of not being able to finish the workout.
2. What outdoor terrain are you comfortable running on?
If you have some experience with outdoor running, you will know what terrain you are comfortable with running on. Various terrain may include:
- Flat running on roads and sidewalks
- Up and down running on hills or trails
- Flat running on grass or flat trails
- Up and down running on roads or sidewalks
- Flat running on a track
Depending on what you are used to doing, you can tailor your treadmill workouts to fit your experience level running without a treadmill.
People who have done a lot of hills, trails, or running on roads with rolling hills can benefit from utilizing more incline in their treadmill workouts. These treadmill runners may benefit from working with 6%, 8%, 10%, or 12% incline.
Alternatively, those who have only run on flat or mostly flat roads, grass, track, or trails could likely start with 2% to 6% incline and still enjoy some benefit.
3. Do you prefer longer, slower runs or shorter, more intense runs?
Beyond your experience level, personal preference will impact how you decide to format your treadmill workouts.
For me, I much prefer to do short sprints, interval training, and hill sprints. Some friends of mine prefer to mix faster runs and high inclines, which mimic their trail running workouts, while other friends much prefer to stick to lower speeds and inclines and cruise for a longer period of time.
None of these approaches are inherently better than another, but rather the choice you make should depend on how you feel and what your body seems to respond to best.
If your body seems to prefer the longer, slower runs, you can run your treadmill workouts at lower incline levels, only occasionally going above 6% incline.
Alternatively, if you are like me and your body despises long runs and thrives off of short bursts, then a higher speed, higher incline, and shorter duration workout would be optimal. In my case, I like to sprint at either flat incline levels or at 8-15% incline.
The best treadmill incline for you should match your outdoor running workouts.
In conclusion, your treadmill workouts should mimic your running workouts that are normally done outside. You should always have some variety in your training, but you can start out by doing your best to simulate your normal outdoor running workouts on the treadmill.
If instead you are just getting started, try the workout approach stated above where you change up the speed, incline, and duration, and you will learn what your body likes and what it finds challenging. By incorporating a variety of workout types in your treadmill running program, you will get the most out of your treadmill purchase and your health will thank you for it!